SIMRAD Proves Us Wrong… Again
Captain's Report by Capt. Steve
It’s no secret that I’m a huge SIMRAD fan and have been for a number of years. While any Multi-Function Display (MFD) will get the job done, for me, the differences lie in the user interface. Where it seems that some manufacturers feel you should get a degree in electronics support, SIMRAD just seems to have a logic that flows with exactly what you want to do. If I do have to break out the manual for my plotter, then it’s a rare day indeed, and only when I want to do something so remote that it only needs to be done once. Like loading a screenshot into the unit for use as wallpaper. Other than that, the manual collects dust on a shelf. And just when I thought the NSS EVO3 brought so many improvements over the EVO2 that it was about as good as it gets, well… wrong again. Enter the new powerhouse on the block, the NSS EVO3S. Obviously, the “S” stands for Super Duper.
Before getting into what I love about this new unit, I should explain how I use mine. Aside from being the senior test captain at BoatTEST.com, I also run a number of commercial vessels, particularly in the summer tourist season on Cape Cod. When I bounce from boat to boat, my MFD bounces with me. I have the power cord wired to an accessory plug and a mounting bracket installed in each boat. So, when I get aboard in the morning, I attach it to the mount and plug the power cord into a socket. Done.
This allows me to take all my routes, waypoints and personal settings with me on each boat. It’s a huge convenience and I don’t have to depend on other units to find my way to my many waypoints whether in the soup or in the clear. The main drawback is that I can’t bring a different radar antenna, sonar transducer, instrumentation interface… etc. with me to each boat. It’s essentially a portable GPS plotter for me. Oh, I also transfer the SiriusXM weather receiver antenna with me and plant that outside a window on a suction mount. So, there’s that. But the point being, I’m focusing my review here on the unit itself, the user interface, functionality and plotter features.
- iMX 8 Integrated six-core processor for superior performance
- 12-inch SolarMAX IPS display with ultra-wide viewing angles; viewable through Polarized sunglasses
- Switch seamlessly between touchscreen and keypad control
- Built-in high-performance echosounder with 1kW CHIRP
- Built-in GPS receiver and wireless connectivity
- Control Simrad sonar, radar, autopilot, and other accessories
- Industry-standard connectivity to engines, sound system, and more
- TripIntel trip planning and support for automatic routing
- Choose low-profile flush mounting or convenient bracket mounting
- Download the Simrad App and connect with smartphones, tablets, and internet hotspots
- Preloaded C-MAP US Enhanced charts to provide detailed mapping with 1-foot contours, easy routing and C-MAP Reveal data in Florida
Faster Across the Board
The 3S is a midlife upgrade to the EVO3 and SIMRAD made good on its promise to bring major upgrades to the next generation of a display specifically focusing on doubling the CPU performance. It’s all thanks to the newer and faster iMX 8 high-performance processor. Drag the chart off the screen and over to a new area and the rendering of the new page is twice as fast as the EVO3. It just snaps to a new view. It’s remarkably noticeable. Page transitions are twice as fast as well. Switch between split screen pages and it snaps to attention. Zoom in, zoom out, page rotations… there’s no thinking time anymore. It just renders instantly.
Even when first powering up, it’s remarkable how quickly the unit boots… 30% faster than the EVO3. And satellite acquisition seems just as fast, at least in my home waters of Nantucket Sound. And this is in an enclosed pilothouse with no external antenna.
SIMRAD units have always had the ability to customize the screens with regard to splitting up to three screens, along with where those splits are, how big each screen is….etc. That still happens with the EVO3S, but…. now instead of being limited to three screens, the new and faster processor allows for creating up to six split screens on the 12” (30.48 cm) and 16” (40.64 cm) models. Is that overkill? Maybe, maybe not. We at least have to give credit to SIMRAD for giving us the choice instead of deciding for us that six was too much. In my opinion, it certainly brings multi-tasking to new levels. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that being able to have two sonar screens, forward scan, dual-range radar screens, engine monitoring, audio and VHF controls all viewed at once is a bad thing.
Improved Tide Awareness
My application for the EVO3S is 90% on party fishing boats. That means I need to be acutely aware of the tides and current strength since they’re such pivotal factors in not only where I go to fish, but how long the spot I choose can sustain a boatload of fishermen. Not only does the unit have animated current arrows showing the direction, but… and this is big… now there’s a tide graph always visible right in the middle of the toolbar on the side of the display. That alone had me doing a Snoopy dance when I saw that.
And Oh That Display
The EVO3 already had a crystal-clear display with the SolarMAX IPS screen, but two things were bugging me about it. First, it had limited viewing angles. Not a big deal when you’re in front of the display. But poke your head into the pilothouse door that’s way off to the side, and the screen is dark… too dark to read. Second, polarized glasses also rendered the screen dark at certain roll angles. And with the rolling in Nantucket Sound, those angles were reached on an all too often frequency.
Both problems have been resolved with the EVO3S. The unit now adds more wattage to the screen for an ultra-sharp 1080p clarity. Now it’s not only viewable from ultra-wide angles so you no longer need to be confined to the helm, polarized sunglasses are no longer an issue.
One other issue that may or may not have been intentionally addressed with the added wattage is no longer haunting me. The touchscreen on the previous EVO2 unit seemed to use the body temp of your finger to recognize touch and control the screen functions. Soooo… when the screen was subjected to direct sunlight, it would heat up to a point where even approaching the screen with your finger would cause the sensor to read it as a touch and the cursor would jump to wherever your finger approached the screen. The EVO3 resolved about 90% of that pet peeve… the 3S… gone. It’s no longer a factor. And the screen is readable in direct sunlight too. In fact, it’s also weatherproof. Occasionally, I’ll use mine in an open center console during a rain, and it shows no ill effects whatsoever. It’s even optically bonded to prevent condensation or fogging within the display.
Ask anyone that has plowed through heavy seas how difficult it is to touch exactly where you want on a touchscreen. It’s a joke trying. That’s why I so appreciate SIMRAD including physical controls alongside the touchscreen. Zoom in/Zoom out with the wheel, move the cursor around with the rocker pad, access other screens, menus… it’s all available with the right-side panel controls. There’s even a key that can be customized for specific functions with a short press or a long press. That said, even if you did want to get precise with the touchscreen, just hold your finger down and a magnifier appears just above your finger. Move that to exactly where you want with surgical precision.
SIMRAD used to be exclusive to Navionics Charts but that company has since been bought out. Now SIMRAD units come preloaded with C-MAP charts. Is any one chart better than the other? That really boils down to personal preferences. But there is this… C-MAP gives three new features: High-resolution bathymetry with 1-foot contours, C-MAP Reveal embedded for Florida and Easy-Routing capabilities.
For me, I don’t notice any difference and all my waypoints still line up exactly where they’re supposed to. Will it matter to a bottom surveyor… maybe. But the point being, I haven’t lost any functionality with the switchover, so I still don’t have a downside to this new unit. However, if you’re married to one chart over the other, fret not. The EVO3S is compatible with a wide range of third-party vendors.
So Much More
Of course, this is a premium-level multi-function display, so it does so much more than what I use it for. It can connect via NMEA2000 connections to a SIMRAD Autopilot, audio system, FLIR cameras, closed-circuit cameras, VHF radio, fuel monitoring and engine displays, as well as advanced CHIRP sonar and HALO Pulse Compression radar with amazing levels of controllability and readability. Let’s talk about some of these features.
High-Performance Echo Sounder
As stated earlier in this report, my functionality is limited to portability. But I’m dying to revert from the shipboard units to SIMRD’s sounder. All it takes is choosing the right transducer for your application, and that may take some doing because the unit supports so many.
The 1kW CHIRP-enabled sonar will give exceptional bottom-tracking and fish-finding performance. Dual transducer ports allow not only a dual-channel CHIRP transducer to cover multiple depths in the single or split-screen but multiple transducers to a single display, including support for dual-channel CHIRP transducers that deliver multiple depth range coverage from a single unit. Thanks to the iMX 8 high-performance processor’s better-than-ever processing power, you can now take advantage of Active Imaging for views of fish-holding structures that will have you thinking you’re looking at an actual picture. ForwardScan sonar offers the safest on-water experience with crystal clear views of the bottom ahead.
Wireless Connectivity to Your Smartphone or Tablet
Wireless functionality allows connectivity to compatible iOS and Android devices to mirror the display to handheld devices. Wireless connectivity also enables easy online software upgrades through any internet hotspot. Just as with any computer, smartphone or tablet, the ability to keep up with software upgrades and patches is of paramount importance. Even as recent as the EVO2, we had to have a physical wired connection to the internet to perform those tasks. Now it can all be done through your phone’s wireless hotspot. Download the SIMRAD App for things like device registration, manual downloads, saving waypoints and your favorite fishing spots – accessible both on and off the water.
Some Things Never Change
One good thing about these new units is that the dimensions haven’t changed. So upgrading to an EVO3S from a previous unit means it will still fit into the same position on the panel (352 x 225 x 98 mm (13.84 x 8.87 x 3.82") with bracket: 377 x 241 x 120 mm (14.85 x 9.47 x 4.71"). No breaking out the jigsaw to create a bigger hole to fit into. For me, it meant that all the brackets I have on various boats for my old EVO2 will still fit for the 3S.
I’ve been driving an NSS EVO2 since shortly after it was released in 2014. Anyone that has used these units, myself included, can attest to how fantastic they are. But no matter what you’re using for electronics, old models sooner or later become outdated. Notice I didn’t say “obsolete.” They still work, still do the same things as when they were new… they just don’t have the features of the newer models.
The EVO3 was released in 2017 and it immediately got my attention. Aside from having a newer SolarMAX display, the main takeaway was the wireless and Bluetooth connectivity allowing downloads wirelessly. It was faster in the processing department too. Great improvements, but not enough to get me to upgrade. I was further tempted by the dual-channel CHIRP capabilities, but as I stated at the beginning of this report, I can’t apply that to my portability needs of the unit.
Now with the next iteration of the evolution, the 3S makes it all worth the wait. Would I upgrade from a 3 to a 3S? That decision is a little tougher and fortunately, I’m not faced with the temptation. Mostly because the model 3 had still been improved on for the latest model year. They benefit from the state-of-the-art SolarMAX HD display screens and deliver improved color accuracy and higher-resolution viewing, plus optimized LED backlighting and complete functionality when wet. The biggest benefit would be the faster processing unit and the functionality it provides.
But upgrade from a 2 to a 3S….? You better believe it.
Features I Love
There are so many factors that make SIMRAD my go-to manufacturer that it’s hard to list them all, but here are a few.
For starters, the ability to customize each waypoint is huge. Competing units will typically allow customizing a range of waypoints… all of a certain type will have the same color or icon. With SIMRAD, each one can not only be customized, but notes can be added as well. That’s a very cool feature for collecting historical data on spots.
I pilot one boat that has another brand’s plotter. Like all plotters, it leaves a track as the boat goes through the water. Simple enough, but there’s no control over these tracks other than on or off. That’s it! So you either see a screen absolutely filled with so many tracks you can’t see the chart detail, or you see one with no tracks at all. What a ridiculous way to hamstring an operator. Still, others of the same brand will let you erase tracks, but that’s an all or nothing feature as well.
With SIMRAD the unit recognizes a new trip when the unit is turned on. So it starts with a fresh new track for that day. If you turn on the display feature you can see previous tracks, but you’re not forced to. Plus you can delete individual tracks, or even save a track as a new route. That last piece is a great feature when you spend a month working the same spot over and over again. I just plug the route in when it’s time to go home, navigate it in reverse at the touch of a button, and just like that I get an ETA back at the dock. Now I can keep my schedule with remarkable precision.
Depth Contour Tracking
Use this feature to direct the autopilot to follow a depth contour. A great feature for working the edge of a reef.
This is a key that allows you to customize its action based on a short press or long-press. Switching screens activate a specific screen, toggle between split screen and full screen… the list goes on and on.
After 40 years of working the bottom of Nantucket Sound, I have over 1100 waypoints and 23 different routes currently in my database, and more are added every time I find a new spot. There’s no way I’m going to be able to recreate that much data in the event of a loss, for whatever reason. That’s why I appreciate the ability to backup all my data on a Micro-SD card. Each time I do a backup, I can name the data and date it. So, if I ever lose everything, I can easily recreate it. Or, more to the point… when I upgrade to a new unit, I just move the SD card over and extract the data. Life is good.
As of this writing, the NSS EVO3S is available in three sizes. The 9” (22.86 cm) model comes in at $2,499, the 12” (30.48 cm) is $3,999 and the 16” (40.64 cm) is $5,999. A HALO20+ radar bundle is offered for the 9 and 12-inch models for an additional $1,800 and $1,600 respectively.
This is one of those units that does so much and does it so well. Nearly all of it is intuitive, but every once in a while, when I’m on the catch and have time to myself, I’ll pull out the manual and just leaf through the pages. Every time I do this, I find another feature that becomes useful to me. It’s like getting a new present every day. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that I'm a fan of SIMRAD. I have no reason not to be. But I have many reasons to not like the competition.